[Reader-list] "Beyond Bin Laden" by Fred Halliday
aiindex at mnet.fr
Tue Sep 25 03:54:08 IST 2001
The Hindustan Times
Tuesday, September 25, 2001
Beyond Bin Laden
Events of the past week have underlined both the importance and
pitfalls that beset discussion of international affairs. All areas of
political and social life involve controversy and commitment: this is
as true of debates on the family, the role of the State in the
economy, education and the causes of crime.
But in no area of public discussion is there as high a dose of
posturing, misinformation and irrationality as that of international
There are, in broad terms, two conventional stances that arise in
regard to international issues - complacency disguised as realism and
irresponsibility posing as conscience. These poles have been evident
in regard to the major cases of humanitarian intervention in the
Nineties (Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo) and are present in much of the
debate on the causes of globalisation and world inequality. They are
present in very specific form in the question of what can be the
future political system in Afghanistan.
For hard-headed realism, the international is a domain of power,
mistrust and recurrence of conflict. This is the way the world, or
god, or the market make it, and there is not much you can do. The
most dangerous people are the do-gooders who make a mess of things by
trying to make the world a better place: foreign aid, human rights, a
lowering of the security guard, let alone education in global issues,
are all doomed to failure.
Last week, in a typical realist calumny, one that allows legitimate
international action only to States, President Bush cast
responsibility for the terror attacks on, among others, NGOs (he had
to spell out that this meant 'non-governmental organisations'). More
ominous are the voices, now pushing a realist agenda, that were
already under starter's orders on the morning of September 11 and are
now in full canter: identity cards, immigration controls, National
In the field of cultural speculation, the great winner has been the
theory, first espoused by Samuel Huntington in 1993, that says we are
entering an epoch that will be dominated by 'the Clash of
The alternative view to realism has its own, equally simplistic,
answers. This assumes that there is a straightforward, benign way of
resolving the world's problems and that there is one, identifiable
and single, cause of what is wrong. Two centuries ago, the cause was
monarchy and absolutism, then branded as the cause of poverty,
ignorance and war; over the past two centuries, it has been
capitalism and imperialism; now it is globalisation. More
specifically, the US is held responsible for the ills of the world -
global inequality, neglect of human rights, militarism, cultural
It is not always clear what the 'America' so responsible is - this
Bush administration, all US administrations, the whole of 'corporate'
America, Hollywood or, in the implication of September 11, the whole
of the American people and, indeed, all who choose to work with, or
visit, or in anyway find themselves in the proximity of such people.
Both of these positions are, perhaps, caricatures, yet the themes
they encompass are evident, and will be even more evident, in the
crisis that has engulfed the world. There are, however, some core
issues where, perhaps, an element of reason about international
affairs may be sustainable.
First, history: much is made of the antecedents. Some involve the
Crusades, others jehad, but the image of the Crusades means little to
those outside the Mediterranean Arab world; jehad is quite an
inappropriate term for the proper, Koranic, reason that the armies of
Islam sought to convert those who were conquered to Islam.
As for the Cold War, it has contributed its mite to this crisis and,
in particular, to the destruction of Afghanistan but in a way that
should give comfort to few. One can here suggest a 'two dustbins'
theory' of Cold War legacy: if the Soviet system has left a mass of
uncontrolled nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and unresolved
ethnic problems, the West has bequeathed a bevy of murderous gangs,
from Unita in Angola to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.
A second issue that is present is that of culture. It takes two to
have a 'Clash of Civilisations' and there are those on both sides who
are using the present conflict to promote it.
Huntington's theory misses what is the most important cause of the
events of recent days, and which will define the consequences in the
Muslim world of what is to come, namely the enormous clash within the
Muslim world between those who want to reform, and secularise, and
those whose power is threatened, or who want to take power in the
name of fundamentalism. This has been the basis of the conflicts
going on these past decades in Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and,
most violently of all, Afghanistan.
Religious fundamentalists in all societies have one goal: it is not
to convert other people to their beliefs, but to seize power -
political, social and gendered - within their own societies. Their
greatest foe is secularism.
The third and, arguably, most important and difficult issue
underlying the crisis is that of the most effective and just way to
combine the two instruments of international politics - force and
diplomacy. Under international law, States are entitled to use force
in self-defence. An element of retribution is part of any legal
system, domestic or international. The UN is not some pacifist,
supranational last resort, but a body which, in its charter and in
the Security Council resolution 1368 of September 12, has authorised
military action by States in this case.
At the same time, any use of force, in the immediate future or in the
longer conflict promised by both sides, has to be matched by
diplomatic and political initiative. This can cover each of the
separate issues that make up the greater West Asian crisis underlying
these events, from Kashmir to Palestine, and on to Kosovo, but it
must, above all, address the future of Afghanistan itself.
Here, the UN has, since 1993, been on record, and with the support of
all the permanent members of the Security Council and all the
neighbouring States, in calling for the setting up of a new
government. The UN has insisted that this be broadly based, fully
representative, multi-ethnic and opposed to terrorism. This is a goal
which the current crisis requires and brings closer to view. It is
also one which, it is generally agreed, the great majority of Afghans
Freud once argued that the aim of psychoanalysis was to reduce
extreme hysteria to everyday common misery. The function of reasoned
argument, and an engaged scepticism, in international affairs is to
do just that.
The writer is Professor of International Relations at the London
School of Economics and author of 'The World at 2000' Guardian News
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